Oct. 5, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
There were times on Saturday night, especially in the first half, when Georgia Tech looked like it was slogging through mud in futile pursuit of the much faster Miami Hurricanes.
On one first-quarter drive, Hurricanes’ wide receiver Phillip Dorsett appeared to have a gear that might have even left Jackets A-Back and Track and Field sprinter Broderick Snoddy green with envy. On the other side of the ball, there were times when apparent gaping holes for Jackets backs suddenly disappeared as if they’d never existed.
It was a mismatch in speed not seen since Aesop, probably inspiring him to write his famous fable The Tortoise and The Hare.
On Saturday night, Whiteout night at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the Yellow Jackets stayed true to Aesop’s Fable, slowly and steadily pounding Miami, eventually knocking the wind out of the Hurricanes, 28-17.
You might want to add relentlessly.
So how did they do it? How did they slow down the speed-of-light ‘Canes, which had scored 87 points against Tech the last two years?
“How do you neutralize it? You hold the ball for 40 minutes and 45 seconds and they’re not out there,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson, whose team went to 5-0 for the second time in his tenure (they started 6-0 in 2011) and snapped a five-game losing streak to Miami. “The best way to play a team like that is to keep them off the field. They ran 21 [plays] at half. They ran 44 plays the whole game.”
Georgia Tech ran 72 plays to Miami’s 44, outgained them 318-107 on the ground and held a 21:30 edge in time of possession (40:45 to 19:15). That was 31 rushing yards below their season average, 20 fewer plays run and nearly 9:30 below its season time of possession average.
Typical was a big-boy drive coming out of the locker room to start the second half, with the game tied at 14. The drive went 75 yards in 13 plays and ate up nearly seven minutes, giving Georgia Tech its first lead of the game and resulting in the final lead change of the game. Of the 13 plays, 11 were running plays, with only one of those gaining more than 10 yards — a 25-yard jaunt by A-Back Charles Perkins. Eight of those runs gained five or fewer yards as the Jackets pounded and pounded and pounded the ball. The two passes on the drive, by the way, both fell incomplete. Senior B-Back Zach Laskey was the sledgehammer in the attack, rushing seven times for a total of 29 yards on the drive, with rushes of eight, three, two, four, five, four, and three yards.
“You could tell they were kind of keying on it at the end but previous to that they were trying to take away the run from Justin because Justin the past few weeks has just been killing defenses,” said Laskey, who tied his career high with 133 yards (set last Oct. 26 at Virginia) on a career-best 29 carries. “That kind of softened it up a little bit for me to run it up in there. The last drive Coach was just like, ‘Look we’re just going to try to run it down their throats. Just hold onto the ball, lower your pads and run through everything.’”
While the Hurricanes succeeded in slowing Thomas, holding him to season-low 27 rushing yards on 13 carries — he’d come in averaging 110. 8 ypg), they were hit hard by Laskey and an array of A-Backs, that took turns bursting around the corner, doing damage bit by bit. Five different A-Backs (Perkins, Tony Zenon, B.J. Bostic, Synjyn Days and Deon Hill and Dennis Andrews combined for 152 rushing yards, led by Perkins’ 65 yards on seven carries (9.3 ypc), and while Deon Hill only ran for 16, eight of those came with 6:54 remaining on a fourth-and-two gamble by Paul Johnson, with the Jackets only up 21-17.
Johnson didn’t see it as that big a gamble.
“I told our team, ‘We’re going to run the triple. We do it every day. It’s two yards, let’s go get it,’” said Johnson. “And we did. Justin made a nice read and we had Deon on the edge and they didn’t have anybody out there. So it was good.”
The Jackets’ defense did a good job in keeping the Hurricanes down. They limited Miami to three second-half points, and one third-down conversion in five tries. The defense pressured freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, registering a pair of second-half sacks and making a pair of key interceptions. Strong safety Isaiah Johnson made his first pick since 2012 to end a second-quarter drive at the Tech 10 with the game tied at 14, and free safety Jamal Golden made an end-zone pick late in the fourth at 28-17, to snuff out any hope of a Miami comeback.
The turnovers and the victory over Miami was redemption for the safeties and was a statement by the defense.
“The first couple of games we were trying to make a name for ourselves,” said Johnson. “Really it came in the second half of the Georgia Southern game, but that’s when we knew we had to do better. So far it’s showing itself.”
The offense also did its part in sealing the deal.
With 9:17 to play and the Jackets looking to milk the clock up 28-17, Tech chipped away and chipped away. The possession netted only 27 yards, but used nine plays and ate up 5:40. Tech’s biggest play was six yards, with Laskey carrying seven times, for punishing but demoralizing gains of four, three, three, five, four two and five yards, with Charles Perkins adding a six-yard run.
Each rush required as many as two, three, four, sometimes five Miami defenders to bring him down.
When Miami finally got close and sought desperately to cut into the lead, Tech’s defense stepped up.
Finally Georgia Tech had a win over Miami and played possibly its most complete game of the year.
“This year we finished,” said redshirt senior linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, who had four tackles (three solo) and a team-high two pass break-ups. “We harp a lot on finishing. In this game we finished. The offense kept us fresh. Third and forever, no matter what, they were converting it (Tech was 9-of-14 on third down). It’s a great feeling to have all the phases of the team going. The seniors are feeling great right now and they’re going to enjoy the night tonight with a smile on their faces.”
So will the fans, who made the Whiteout a huge success, creating a deafening din during the game and storming the field afterward.
“It was awesome,” said Laskey. “You get to go out and sing the fight song to all the students who came out. It really makes you feel like you’re playing for the whole community and it’s just a great feeling.”
End of story.
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